Premier League Manchester derby: Plenty to cheer but Bravo for City

The latest twist in their goalkeeping saga will take many headlines but Pep Guardiola is crafting a formidable side at Manchester City.

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When the final whistle sounded in Saturday's Manchester derby at Old Trafford and Aleksandar Kolarov let out a guttural roar past the gap where his recently departed front tooth once resided, it was hard to escape the impression that Pep Guardiola's unblemished start to life in English football had once again been relegated to a sub-plot in a goalkeeping farce entirely of his own making.

The Ballard of Joe, Willy and Claudio is a complex script that has lurched from suspense drama to true love break-up tale, before settling on free-form slapstick comedy this weekend.

Claudio Bravo famously bridled when he won the award for LaLiga's best goalkeeper in 2015 and the presentation was preceded by a compilation video of goalkeeping gaffes.

The Chilean's fine performances for Barcelona meant he did not feature in the video nasty but was nonetheless unamused, labelling it as "lamentable".

This word would also fit well with Bravo's efforts on his City debut, putting together a reel of lowlights and drawing harrumphing catcalls from the Stretford End.

After signing from Barcelona to force City crowd favourite Joe Hart into a loan move to Torino, Bravo initially played with the assurance in possession Guardiola demands from his last line of defence, building attacks from the back as the visitors scored through Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho.

Alas, the threat of death by a thousand cutting passes in this latest dual between Guardiola and his old friend-turned-nemesis Jose Mourinho fell to earth when Bravo clattered into the back of John Stones, dropped the ball and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rifled in.

The 33-year-old seldom handled with comfort thereafter and was bailed out by a pair of goalline clearances from Stones. He did at least get into the derby day spirit by clattering through Wayne Rooney after a heavy touch dribbling away from his own six-yard box. Mourinho was not alone in suggesting referee Mark Clattenburg should have awarded a penalty and ended Bravo's misery via an early bath.

If Guardiola's post-match comments lavishing absurd praise upon Bravo gave the impression he is in on the joke, maybe he is. That, or it was misplaced enthusiasm on another day where there was so much to like from a team who are still feeling out their coach and vice-versa.

De Bruyne was no more than a cog in the Guardiola machine over the course of five wins from five competitive matches heading into the derby, but the Belgium international was at his imperious best here and was ultimately the difference between the sides.

He ran intelligently and relentlessly, passed incisively and located every weak point in the United defence with sonar precision.

De Bruyne was prompted by David Silva, the Spain playmaker operating at his silken and sumptuous best during City's most impressive moments. Bringing those two in from the flanks to be at the heart of the team is Guardiola's canniest move yet in Manchester.

It places his team on a different level to the feast and famine assortment presided over Manuel Pellegrini.

City also have organisation and steel to fall back on in the event of a team-mate, such as Bravo, going off-grid.

Nicolas Otamendi left the field bloodied after five tackles and six interceptions in a display that did nothing to endear him to Wayne Rooney, Stones led the way with 12 clearances, while Kolarov should be applauded into the dentists' surgery on Monday morning.

Competent goalkeeping cannot be bandaged up by heroic defending for ever and Bravo might have used up his supply of get-out-of-jail-free cards in one sitting.

Nevertheless, with a winning run rumbling on and key players mixing panache with blood and sweat for the cause, it is tempting to wonder just how rosy things will look at Manchester City once we've all stopped laughing at their goalkeepers.

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